Report From a Visit to Greece
Bartlomiej Swiderek for the EFA
December 11, 2003
The Rainbow-Vinozhito party, a member of the European Free Alliance,
which represents the Macedonian national minority in Greece, had
to cancel its first congress twice owing to threats and pressure
from Greek far right and neo-nazi organisations. I spent a couple
of days in the northern Greek regions of Western and Central Macedonia
as well as in Athens in order to monitor the recent developments
concerning this issue. Even though the Rainbow-Vinozhito party is
a legal organisation it faces serious problems with its activities
as Greek authorities officially deny the existence of a Macedonian
minority on its territory.
The congress of the party was to be focused on forthcoming national
elections in Greece, European elections as well as re-shaping party
policies. To this end party officials asked for a room in the town
of Edessa (Central Macedonia) where they were going to organise
the event. Even though they were promised a room in the "Hotel
Xenia" eventually the owner of the room refused to rent it
to Vinozhito. It is noteworthy that invitations produced by the
party and distributed by post only among those who were invited
appeared in newspapers issued by Greek far-right parties demanding
that the venture should be cancelled and the "Slavophones" as
they call the Macedonian minority should be restrained from organising
any event on Greek soil.
I was informed that the owner of the room was receiving phone calls
with threats against his life, unknown perpetrators damaged his
car and smashed part of the conference room.
Therefore party officials asked the mayor of Edessa, Mr. Giannis
Siontras, to help them organise the congress. The mayor suggested
a hall managed by the cultural association "Alexander the Great",
however he asked that the date of the congress be changed so it
was rescheduled for 7th December.
On 30 November several anti-Macedonian events and demonstrations
organised by far right groups took place in Edessa, which was the
reason for a refusal to rent Vinozhito the "Alexander the Great" hall.
Noteworthy, the president of the association not only refused to
rent the room but he also refused to meet Vinozhito officials. Our
two letters sent to Greek PM Mr. Kostas Simitis asking for assistance
in preparation of the congress remained without any response.
On 7 December Greek far right groups organised two ventures in
the town of Edessa/Voden as a reaction to planned Vinozhito congress.
One of these took place in a conference room in the Hotel "Xenia".
This one focused on speeches by xenophobic and racist politicians
and activists claiming the "permanent Greek character of Macedonia,
now endangered by the presence of some <Skopjan> agents",
as Macedonians are called by them. I was in the room together with
two Vinozhito officials who provided me with a summary of what had
been said there. After leaving the hotel we were stopped by plain
clothed policemen and our personal data was recorded by them. However,
we were assured these were just security reasons without any hint
of persecution. Anyway, a question asked by one of the Macedonians
about whether other people entering and leaving the hotel are also
recorded by the police remained without an answer.
After this we went to the central square of Edessa/Voden where
skinheads of the "Golden dawn" organisation held an anti-Macedonian
demonstration shouting: "Macedonia is a Greek soil; Bulgarians,
Gypsies and Skopjans out of Greece". People who demonstrated
waved Greek national flags, played drums and presented banners with
other anti-Macedonian slogans. While taking pictures I was accosted
by two members of the "Golden dawn" who claimed to be
responsible for the security of the demonstration and therefore
asked me about a purpose of my visit to Edessa/Voden.
On the next day I met the mayor of Edessa/Voden Mr. Giannis Siontras
who claimed not to be the proper person to be asked questions about
the cancellation of Vinozhito congress and security measures to
be taken in order that the congress could be organised. I was informed
by the mayor that security in the town is not within the competencies
of local authorities but of police, which, as I was assured, will
probably do their best to protect Vinozhito congress in the future!
My personal impression after speaking with the mayor is that nobody
wanted to take responsibility for what was happening in the town
during those days and nobody could envisage how the situation will
After meeting the mayor of Edessa I went to Athens where together
with two Vinozhito officials I attended several meetings with journalists,
minority activists and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) to discuss the
situation in Greece in the context of Vinozhito problems. In the
meantime Minority Rights Group International produced a statement
in which they expressed their concern over the situation of the
During these days a press-conference organised by the GHM took
place during which foreign correspondents were informed about human
rights violation in Greece, based on reports by UNHCR in Athens,
Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe,
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, International
Press Institute, etc. What is noteworthy, the case of Vinozhito
was also raised during the conference.
The Rainbow party --Vinozhito, which has excellent links with minority
groups and human rights organisations in Greece copes with several
problems most of them linked with a lack of official recognition
of the Macedonian national minority in Greece. I have an impression
that any activity of the party, however peaceful, causes strong
reactions from the far-right groups and a part of Greek society
very much linked to the myth of a "Hellenic purity of the country" and
scared of a "Slavo-Turko-European" plot directed against
It really strikes me that the congress of a democratic and legal
party had to be cancelled for security reasons, while the far right
groups can organise their events without any problems. It is noteworthy,
that openly Nazi organisation like the mentioned "Golden dawn" is
legal in Greece and can disrupt political activities of a minority
Another issue, which seems worthy of mention is the attitude of
Greek authorities towards the Macedonian population. In an official
statement by the Greek government one can read that:
"The only existing and officially recognised minority in Greece
is the Muslim minority in Thrace. (...) There are no other groups
in Greece, which can be defined, according to international law
standards, as minorities.
In this context, Greece wishes also to stress that references to
the so-called <Macedonian> minority are inaccurate and misleading.
There is no <Macedonian> minority in Greece. The existence
of such a minority is claimed by some individuals only, on the basis
of the fact that in Northern Greece there is a small number of persons
who speak a Slavic idiom, confined to family or colloquial use.
However, these persons have never expressed themselves as having
a distinct ethnic or national identity and reject any attempt to
define them as members of a national or linguistic minority."
This leads to the conclusion that in Greece it is the state that
decides whether Macedonians can regard themselves as a distinct
nation or not. As Greece strongly opposes recognition of the existence
of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM, or Skopje in Greece) claiming
Macedonia to be part of a Hellenic heritage it seems unlikely that
in current circumstances the Macedonian minority in Greece will
I suggest that EFA monitors developments in Greece and gives all
necessary assistance to the Rainbow-Vinozhito party in their activities.
11th December 2003